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South Africa elections Tuesday, 1 June, 1999, 07:41 GMT 08:41 UK
The Rainbow Nation takes stock
Inkatha supporter
Not a cliffhanger election, but still gripping
By Southern Africa Correspondent Jeremy Vine

Only five years after South Africa finally became a democracy, its citizens might be forgiven for wondering if there is any point holding its second national election.

South African Elections
The ruling ANC is so completely dominant that the conclusion of the poll is taken as read.

The party will beat all comers, and Nelson Mandela's chosen successor, Thabo Mbeki, will become president.

It is difficult to imagine anything - short of a runaway number 67 bus - preventing Mr Mbeki winning on 2 June and being inaugurated a fortnight later.

But although the election is no cliffhanger, there are reasons a plenty to find the dialogue going on around it gripping.

It appears, first of all, that black South Africans - 85% of the population - are prepared to show far greater patience to the ANC than might be expected.

With the jobless rate at 40%, many are getting poorer.

Affirmative action has benefited only a lucky few, and the townships still sprawl.

The promise of a million new homes has not been fulfilled.

Opinion poll: Voter priorities
Fortunately for the ruling party, the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994 brought to power a man whose extraordinary stature seems to place him beyond reproach for his party's failures.

There is also a recognition that much good has been done.

All kinds of apartheid laws have been excised from the statute book, and there is still a residual glow from what was a miraculously peaceful transition to democracy.

Narrowing the divisions

But the glow is fading now, and the fact that this election is Mr Mandela's farewell leaves Mr Mbeki in a potentially fragile position.

He has a massive task ahead of him, because inequities in this society smack any visitor in the face.

Whites are reckoned to hold nine out of 10 of the top jobs: they live in big houses, pack the best restaurants, dominate Prizegiving Day at the most expensive schools.

What can Mr Mbeki do to shift their wealth and their power into the hands of those who need it more?

The campaigning thus far has been largely free of policy discussion, so we have not had an answer.

But the lack of one tells its own story. The next president cannot be seen preparing to hammer whites - because where would that leave the last president's cherished concept of a 'rainbow nation'?

The South African government lives in fear of a collapse of foreign investor confidence that would hit the Rand and hurt the economy.

Mr Mbeki, in virtual charge of the government for quite some time now, has cleverly nurtured the faith of international business.

He does not want to blow it just as he prepares to move to a bigger office. So he is hemmed in.

The one comfort for the opposition is that they will have to struggle with none of these questions because they have no hope of winning real power.

Other contenders

The so-called 'New' National Party still labours under the baggage of its apartheid past and is fighting under the depressing slogan, 'Hang Murderers and Rapists.'

The United Democratic Movement, formed by Roelf Meyer (ex-NP) and Bantu Holomisa (ex- ANC), is not capturing enough hearts and minds.

Thabo Mbeki
Thabo Mbeki - presidency looks guaranteed
The Democratic Party under Tony Leon is fighting a knock-down, drag-out campaign, but polls show the ANC at around 60%, with the Democrats languishing with the others at around 10%.

Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Zulu-based IFP is a regional force only.

Tackling poverty, corruption and crime will be among the next president's biggest tasks.

Hopefully, the rocky phase South Africa is going through is exactly that - a phase, something purely transitional.

If not, when the election is done, the ANC may find impatience welling up among its own supporters quicker than anticipated.

Until it does - and unless the opposition builds up strength - the great irony of the new, democratic South Africa will be that it resembles nothing so much as a one-party state.

Jeremy Vine reports on the campaign
Jane Standley reports on the old relationship of maid and madam in the new South Africa
Links to more South Africa elections stories are at the foot of the page.

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